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Best order to climb California's 14ers??

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Best order to climb California's 14ers??

Postby VikingMan » Mon Feb 18, 2013 5:11 pm

Hey guys, I was wondering if anyone (especially if you have climbed them yourself) knows the best order to hike/climb California's 14ers. There is very inconsistent info out there on the actual difficulty of various routes for each mountain, along w/ different x-factors (class ranking, ice/snow, mileage, elevation gain, etc.), so it makes it hard to figure out what would be best/safest to climb next, and so on. So far I have hiked White Mt., Whitney, and Muir. Some are obvious, like the fact that North Palisade, Thunderbolt, Starlight, and Polemonium are the most difficult peaks, being that that are all class 4-5+ on their easiest routes, which are way beyond my skill level at this time, but I'd like to start on some of the easier class 2-3 mountains this summer, and need a little guidance. Based on my research (and I could be way off on a few of them), this is the order I've put them in along w/ the corresponding info I have found regarding their easiest routes (lots of blanks!):

White Mt. (14246’)
Class 1 - 14 miles - 2500’ gain

Mt. Langley (14026’)
Class 1+ - 18 miles – 4000 gain

Mt. Muir (14012’)
Class 2-3 - 300 ft up from Whitney Trail Crest

Mt. Whitney (14505’)
Class 1 - 22 miles - 6100’ gain

Split Mt. (South Palisade) (14058’)
Class 2+

Mt. Sill (14153’)
Class 2-3 – 27?? miles - 6500’ gain

Mt. Russell (14088’)
Class 2-3 (exposed) – 10 miles – 5700’ gain

Mt. Tyndall (14018’)
Class 2-3 – 25 miles – 10100’ gain

Mt Williamson (14375’)
Class 2-3 – 27 miles – 10500’ gain

Mt. Shasta (14162’)
Class 3 (year-round snow/ice) - 11 miles - 7300’ gain

Middle Palisade (14040’)
Class 3

North Palisade (14242’)
Class 4

Polemonium Peak (14080’)
Class 4

Starlight Peak (14200’)
Class 4-5.6

Thunderbolt Peak
Class 3-5.9

Can you guys help me fill in some of these blanks (mileage, gain, etc.) and let me know if I am on the right track? If my research serves me right, I believe the next mountain I should be attempting is Mt. Langley ( should be easier than what I've already done), and then on to Split, Sill, and Russell... what do you think? Thanks! :D
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Re: Best order to climb California's 14ers??

Postby Fletch » Mon Feb 18, 2013 5:17 pm

Honestly, it looks pretty close to me. But I'm sure your going to get 10 pages of answers on this one, so go with the guys opinions who have climbed them all...

I think the easiest route on Shasta is probably easier than Williamson (and maybe Russell), but if you are better as a hiker/scrambler and don't have great snow skills, then I'd leave your order as is...

Good luck. Let us know how it goes...
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Re: Best order to climb California's 14ers??

Postby mrchad9 » Mon Feb 18, 2013 5:20 pm

I hope you don't do the last four in that order... that is a lot of back and forth!

Seriously though I don't think the order matters that much. If you are good with class 3 then those are opened up, then off to the class four ones. Do Langley, Split, Sill, Russell, Williamson, and Shasta next (in any order) and then you can focus on the rest.
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Re: Best order to climb California's 14ers??

Postby VikingMan » Mon Feb 18, 2013 5:36 pm

mrchad9 wrote:I hope you don't do the last four in that order... that is a lot of back and forth!

Seriously though I don't think the order matters that much. If you are good with class 3 then those are opened up, then off to the class four ones. Do Langley, Split, Sill, Russell, Williamson, and Shasta next (in any order) and then you can focus on the rest.


Hahah yeah it is a bit of back and forth eh? I just put them in that order based on difficulty if you were to do them each on separate trips... I hope by the time I get to that level I can hammer them all out in a day! lol... so Langley, Split, Sill, Russell, Williamson (should Tyndall should be in there on the same trip??), and Shasta... I actually might leave them in a similar order since I have limited crampons experience (Shasta)... you have any stats (mileage, gain) on Split or Sill? couldn't find anything on Split, and I found a lot of conflicting info on Sill.
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Re: Best order to climb California's 14ers??

Postby mrchad9 » Mon Feb 18, 2013 5:55 pm

If you haven't done class 3 before I suppose I would do Langley/Split before the others in that group. Yeah do Tyndall and Williamson together- no need to go up Shepherd Pass twice for this. I don't have the stats on Split or Sill, but you should be able to get that from either the SP pages or looking at the topo maps. Split is very straightforward. For Sill the easiest route is to head up to the saddle with Mount Gayley from either the north or south fork of Big Pine Creek. From there it is mostly class 2 up a chute just north of the summit, sometimes filled with snow sometimes loose talue. There is just a few steeper sections that are class 3 but kindof loose too.

Either that or wait and do Sill with the others in the Palisades, in which case it will a non-issue for you once you get past the notch at Polemonium.
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Re: Best order to climb California's 14ers??

Postby 2600fromatari » Mon Feb 18, 2013 8:28 pm

Are you dayhiking or backpacking? That would affect the order that you listed for me. Granted I'm not the epitome of fine health, but many people would find a dayhike of Sill or Williamson/Tyndall kind of brutal.

How comfortable are you with exposure? If you're not so much, I would move Russell down the list right next to Middle Palisade. The route is straightforward and easily done in a day but the exposure may be unnerving if Muir is the most technical mountain you've done.

As for the Class 4/5 peaks, while Thunderbolt may have the hardest move for that summitblock, it is by far the easiest to get to IMO. I found North Palisade and Polemonium more troubling.

Good luck, and have fun.

VikingMan wrote:
mrchad9 wrote:I hope you don't do the last four in that order... that is a lot of back and forth!

Seriously though I don't think the order matters that much. If you are good with class 3 then those are opened up, then off to the class four ones. Do Langley, Split, Sill, Russell, Williamson, and Shasta next (in any order) and then you can focus on the rest.


Hahah yeah it is a bit of back and forth eh? I just put them in that order based on difficulty if you were to do them each on separate trips... I hope by the time I get to that level I can hammer them all out in a day! lol... so Langley, Split, Sill, Russell, Williamson (should Tyndall should be in there on the same trip??), and Shasta... I actually might leave them in a similar order since I have limited crampons experience (Shasta)... you have any stats (mileage, gain) on Split or Sill? couldn't find anything on Split, and I found a lot of conflicting info on Sill.
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Re: Best order to climb California's 14ers??

Postby VikingMan » Mon Feb 18, 2013 9:36 pm

2600fromatari wrote:Are you dayhiking or backpacking? That would affect the order that you listed for me. Granted I'm not the epitome of fine health, but many people would find a dayhike of Sill or Williamson/Tyndall kind of brutal.

How comfortable are you with exposure? If you're not so much, I would move Russell down the list right next to Middle Palisade. The route is straightforward and easily done in a day but the exposure may be unnerving if Muir is the most technical mountain you've done.

As for the Class 4/5 peaks, while Thunderbolt may have the hardest move for that summitblock, it is by far the easiest to get to IMO. I found North Palisade and Polemonium more troubling.

Good luck, and have fun.


We do mostly dayhiking, but are definitely up for overnighters on a few of these (especially Williamson/Tyndall and some of the Palisade region)... the gnarliest my girlfriend and I have done together is Whitney and the Grand Canyon rim to rim (south to north) in a day... she's actually done the Cactus to Clouds route up San Jacinto (24 miles, 10,400' gain) as well, so we do have a little experience there, but being that I'm a photographer, and that we don't care about speed records or anything like that lol, we'd always rather take our time than not.

Yeah I thought I was decently comfortable w/ exposure until seeing photos/video of that east ridge on Mt. Russell... arguably one of the easier and most beautiful 14er hikes, but damn does that exposure look scary at times... will definitely have to get more comfortable w/ that kind of thing before making the attempt... any suggestions on training hikes for a peak like that?
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Re: Best order to climb California's 14ers??

Postby 2600fromatari » Mon Feb 18, 2013 9:58 pm

C2C is a good one but not comparable to Williamson for me even though the elevation gains are similar. I have issues with altitude so the +10k ft of gain on Willi is much, much tougher. Personally, I would do Tilli/Willi/Sill as an overnighter. Thumbs up on cruising and taking pictures. You'll love Finger Lake at Middle Palisade.

I don't think you can really "train" for the exposure on Russell. It's mental, and the exposure is more sustained than any other Class 3 routes I've been on. You could try Whitney's Mountaineer's Route or Cloudripper. Relatively short/quick hike in to get to the Class 3 stuff.
http://www.summitpost.org/west-chute/412973

Cornell Peak by San Jacinto? It's short though and over all too quickly:
http://www.mtsanjacinto.info/viewtopic. ... c&start=15

I would suggest Clyde Minaret but that's right there with Russell. Only advice I could give you is to just take your time on the East Ridge. There's always a solution with good hand and foot holds in the summer.
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Re: Best order to climb California's 14ers??

Postby seano » Mon Feb 18, 2013 10:14 pm

I would consider linking them up, since otherwise there is way too
much back-and-forth, and some of the easiest routes are awful. Since
you've done White, Whitney, and Muir, the groups you have left are, in
order of increasing difficulty:
  • Langley -- easy.
  • Split -- long-ish as a day, but technically straightforward.
  • Shasta -- if you know how to use axe and crampons, it's easy.
  • Williamson/Tyndall -- definitely combine these, to avoid repeat trips up Shepherd Pass. Doing them both in a day would be brutal, but a 2-3 day backpack is reasonable.
  • Middle Palisade -- Quite exposed, but a reasonable day.
  • Russell -- Exposed, but not too serious.
  • Thunderbolt to Sill -- You don't want to split these up if you can help it. Sill's easiest route has an absolute nightmare of an approach over Scimitar Pass, and most of the others share the same approach. I would build up your confidence on 4th class terrain (e.g. Norman Clyde), then do the traverse. You'll probably want to aid Thunderbolt's summit block.
Good luck.
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Re: Best order to climb California's 14ers??

Postby mrchad9 » Mon Feb 18, 2013 10:44 pm

+1 to climbing Norman Clyde!
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Re: Best order to climb California's 14ers??

Postby RickF » Mon Feb 18, 2013 11:43 pm

I've enjoyed this debate with friends that have been my trip partners for the California Fourteeners. Richin's has a rating system and I've devleped one similar to it. Where I disagree with my friends is over the concept of technical challenge/exposure verses overall effort. I've tried to paste my Excel worksheet in below but it doesn't copy to well in the 'reply' box. I'll galdly e-mail it to anyone who's interested. Although the headings and columns of my worksheet are jumbled, you can see how I rank the California Fourteeners by degree of overall challenge and effort. So for instance Williamson has one of the longest distances from trailhead to summit, so I rate it harder then Thunderbolt despite T-bolt having a more technically challenging summit block. I also agree with the other posts that those peaks accessed from a common trailhead should be attempted together in a single, multi-day outing.

Ease, Difficulty Rank Peak Name Route Name Trail Head Name Suggested Trip Duration (days) Calculated Hiking & Climbing Time (hours) Total One-way Distance (miles) Trailhead Elevation (feet) Summit Elevation (feet) Vertical Gain, Net (feet) Approach Hike Difficulty (1 to 5) Technical Climbing Rating (1 to 5) Richins Effort Rating
1 White Mountain Peak Barcroft Research Center Jeep Trail Barcroft Gate 1 6.15 7.5 11,600 14,246 2,646 1 1 9.5
2 Langley Cottonwood Lakes Trail, New Army Pass Cottonwood Lakes Trail Head 1 14.28 15 9,494 14,027 4,533 2 1 9.6
3 Whitney Main Mt. Whitney Trail Whitney Portal 1 14.47 11 8,360 14,497 6,137 2 1 10.2
4 Muir Main Mt. Whitney Trail Whitney Portal 1 14.66 9 8,360 14,015 5,655 2 3 10.7
5 Shasta Avalanche Gulch Bunny Flat 1 14.72 7 6,980 14,162 7,182 3 1 9.8
6 Russell North Fork of Lone Pine Creek, SE chute, right side Whitney Portal 2 16.73 8 8,360 14,086 5,726 3 3 9.3
7 Split Red Lake Trail, North Ridge, Prater-Split Saddle Red Lake TH 2 18.17 9 6,888 14,058 7,170 3 2 11.2
8 Thunderbolt Bishop Pass Trail, Thunderbolt Pass, Chute No. 1 South Lake 2 22.52 10 9,820 14,003 4,183 4 5 9.9
9 Tyndall Sheppard's Pass, North Rib Symmes Creek (Sheppard's Pass) TH 2 22.62 12 6,396 14,015 7,619 3 3 14
10 Polemonium Bishop Pass Trail, Thunderbolt Pass, U-notch West South Lake 2 26.71 13 9,820 14,200 4,380 4 5 NR
11 North Palisade Bishop Pass Trail, Thunderbolt Pass, U-notch West South Lake 2 26.76 13 9,820 14,242 4,422 4 5 10.7
12 Starlight Bishop Pass Trail, Thunderbolt Pass, U-notch West South Lake 2 27.38 13.5 9,820 14,200 4,380 4 5 NR
13 Middle Palisade East Face Big Pine Creek, Glacier Lodge 3 30.63 12 7,806 14,040 6,234 5 4 9.8
14 Sill Palisade Glacier, Glacier Notch, North Couloir Big Pine Creek, Glacier Lodge 3 33.69 14 7,806 14,162 6,356 5 4 10.5
15 Williamson Sheppard's Pass, West Face, Class 3 chute Symmes Creek (Sheppard's Pass) TH 3 34.31 14 6,396 14,375 7,979 5 3 14.9

Caveats & Assumptions:
1. Rankings are based on the easiest overall route to the summit.
2. The ranking above is based on total effort and takes into account factors of distance, elevation gain, terrain and technical difficulty.
3. The suggested days is based on being capable to hike/climb 15 hours in a single day with a day pack weighing 25 lbs. or less.
4. Shasta is assumed to be climbed with snow conditions, ice-axe/crampons or A-T skis.
5. Distances from R.J. Secor "High Sierra" and scaled from maps.
6. Travel speed is based on minimal day-pack weight. Multi-day trips requiring heavier packs with more food & over-night gear will likely result in longer total hiking/climbing durations.
7. Durations are based on expected travel rates for an average healthy mountaineer, not "Sierra Challenge" class super athletes whom travel much faster with less gear, and take more risks with exposure.
8. Calculated durations and travel speeds are based on assumption of dry weather and adequate visiblity.
9. Rankings are based on average year's snowfall & accumulation. Some snow & ice travel is to be expected
10. Ranking is based on assumption that each summit being reached in a separate trip. However, for efficiency, it is recommended that peaks in close proximity, sharing same approaches, should be climbed
together on a single trip. These peak groups are as follows:
A. Whitney & Muir (1 or 2 days)
B. Tyndall & Williamson (3 to 4 days)
C. Polemonium, North Palisade, Starlight & Thunderbolt (4 to 5 days)
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Re: Best order to climb California's 14ers??

Postby 2600fromatari » Tue Feb 19, 2013 2:24 am

Rick,
Your ratings are interesting. I didn't think people who have done these peaks could have such different opinions.

I'm surprised that you rank Russell (9.3) lower than White Mountain (9.5) via the main trail. Russell has double the elevation gain (and that scree slog from UBSL is nasty) and more technical.

Mt. Muir via the main trail tied with North Palisade, and higher than Thunderbolt, Sill, and Middle Palisade: I think Muir is easy-breezy while the T-Bolt and Nor-Pal is a pain having to talus hop from Agassiz to Thunderbolt Pass then go up that scree chute. I would rank Sill right below Tilli/Willi. Mid-Pal I can do in a day, but would not enjoy it. The boulder hopping from Finger Lake is a pain, and the exposure is on another level compared to Muir from the main trail.

If you don't mind, I'm curious as to how you came to your numbers. Right now, I'm guessing you rank Russell so low because it was so enjoyable for you it made the trip easy while Muir was so painfully boring boring via the Whitney Trail that you bumped it up. :mrgreen:

RickF wrote:Ease, Difficulty Rank Peak Name Route Name Trail Head Name Suggested Trip Duration (days) Calculated Hiking & Climbing Time (hours) Total One-way Distance (miles) Trailhead Elevation (feet) Summit Elevation (feet) Vertical Gain, Net (feet) Approach Hike Difficulty (1 to 5) Technical Climbing Rating (1 to 5) Richins Effort Rating
1 White Mountain Peak Barcroft Research Center Jeep Trail Barcroft Gate 1 6.15 7.5 11,600 14,246 2,646 1 1 9.5
2 Langley Cottonwood Lakes Trail, New Army Pass Cottonwood Lakes Trail Head 1 14.28 15 9,494 14,027 4,533 2 1 9.6
3 Whitney Main Mt. Whitney Trail Whitney Portal 1 14.47 11 8,360 14,497 6,137 2 1 10.2
4 Muir Main Mt. Whitney Trail Whitney Portal 1 14.66 9 8,360 14,015 5,655 2 3 10.7
5 Shasta Avalanche Gulch Bunny Flat 1 14.72 7 6,980 14,162 7,182 3 1 9.8
6 Russell North Fork of Lone Pine Creek, SE chute, right side Whitney Portal 2 16.73 8 8,360 14,086 5,726 3 3 9.3
7 Split Red Lake Trail, North Ridge, Prater-Split Saddle Red Lake TH 2 18.17 9 6,888 14,058 7,170 3 2 11.2
8 Thunderbolt Bishop Pass Trail, Thunderbolt Pass, Chute No. 1 South Lake 2 22.52 10 9,820 14,003 4,183 4 5 9.9
9 Tyndall Sheppard's Pass, North Rib Symmes Creek (Sheppard's Pass) TH 2 22.62 12 6,396 14,015 7,619 3 3 14
10 Polemonium Bishop Pass Trail, Thunderbolt Pass, U-notch West South Lake 2 26.71 13 9,820 14,200 4,380 4 5 NR
11 North Palisade Bishop Pass Trail, Thunderbolt Pass, U-notch West South Lake 2 26.76 13 9,820 14,242 4,422 4 5 10.7
12 Starlight Bishop Pass Trail, Thunderbolt Pass, U-notch West South Lake 2 27.38 13.5 9,820 14,200 4,380 4 5 NR
13 Middle Palisade East Face Big Pine Creek, Glacier Lodge 3 30.63 12 7,806 14,040 6,234 5 4 9.8
14 Sill Palisade Glacier, Glacier Notch, North Couloir Big Pine Creek, Glacier Lodge 3 33.69 14 7,806 14,162 6,356 5 4 10.5
15 Williamson Sheppard's Pass, West Face, Class 3 chute Symmes Creek (Sheppard's Pass) TH 3 34.31 14 6,396 14,375 7,979 5 3 14.9
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Re: Best order to climb California's 14ers??

Postby Gafoto » Tue Feb 19, 2013 4:06 pm

I did Mount Sill from Palisade Basin and it was quite reasonable as a 3 day adventure. The scramble in through Dusy Basin, Palisade Basin and finally the Glacier Creek/Polemonium Glacier area (most of that basin doesn't have names for its features) was gorgeous. The climb itself was a pretty mundane Class 3 scramble, but it didn't diminish the views!
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Re: Best order to climb California's 14ers??

Postby VikingMan » Tue Feb 19, 2013 7:10 pm

seano wrote:I would consider linking them up, since otherwise there is way too
much back-and-forth, and some of the easiest routes are awful. Since
you've done White, Whitney, and Muir, the groups you have left are, in
order of increasing difficulty:
  • Langley -- easy.
  • Split -- long-ish as a day, but technically straightforward.
  • Shasta -- if you know how to use axe and crampons, it's easy.
  • Williamson/Tyndall -- definitely combine these, to avoid repeat trips up Shepherd Pass. Doing them both in a day would be brutal, but a 2-3 day backpack is reasonable.
  • Middle Palisade -- Quite exposed, but a reasonable day.
  • Russell -- Exposed, but not too serious.
  • Thunderbolt to Sill -- You don't want to split these up if you can help it. Sill's easiest route has an absolute nightmare of an approach over Scimitar Pass, and most of the others share the same approach. I would build up your confidence on 4th class terrain (e.g. Norman Clyde), then do the traverse. You'll probably want to aid Thunderbolt's summit block.
Good luck.


Thanks for the info Sean, you would know more than most on the topic! I gotta say I am honored to have you post on this thread 8) your record is ridiculous! What type of insanity are you attempting this year?
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Re: Best order to climb California's 14ers??

Postby seano » Tue Feb 19, 2013 9:30 pm

3Deserts wrote:Finally, regarding Norman Clyde, beautiful mountain, but make sure your route-finding skills are solid. That mountain has been the source of more than a few epics for people who couldn't find their way down easily, especially if conditions deteriorate; and sadly, recently, a death.

Indeed. I suggested Norman Clyde because, like Thunderbolt to Sill, it requires 4th class with non-obvious route-finding on similar rock, but it is a reasonable dayhike. It's a good way to prepare for Thunderbolt to Sill. Other good options might be the traverse between Middle Pal and Disappointment and Palisade Crest, though the latter requires dealing with Scimitar Pass.

And I agree that Cleaver Col is nice. Better still, it more-or-less dodges the Whitney permit zone.
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